Half-Price State of Mind

The data is in and it’s not pretty: The average overspending American spends $1.22 for each $1 of income. If you’re “average” you’re in trouble. You are digging yourself into a horrible pit of debt.

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Let’s say you’re below the average and spend $1 for every $1 you earn. That’s a lot better. Still, you’re living from paycheck to paycheck. If one thing goes wrong, you’ll be in trouble.

The key to achieving financial freedom is to live below your means—you limit your spending to $.80 for each $1 you earn. That leaves $.10 to give away and $.10 to save for the future. That’s called balance and I promise if you live by that formula you will never be broke. Impossible? No. It takes skill, effort and determination. It takes desire and commitment to live below your means without giving up your style and your quality of life.

The first step is to adopt a new attitude, a simple personal standard: I do not pay full price for anything. It is not realistic to think you will never pay full price for anything or that everything is available somewhere for just pennies on the dollar. But if your goal is half-price, it will average out over time. This is a mindset, an attitude. 

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Storing Onions, Making Beef Jerky

I recall the event as if it happened yesterday. I purchased a beautiful bag of sweet white onions (10 pounds for an economical $2.98). I stood the bag on the floor of the pantry. Within a few short weeks I expectantly reached in to pull out a perfect specimen only to find the entire lot had gone soft and were more black than white. I hate when that happens.

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A few days later I was reading one of my prized possessions, Julia Child’s The Way to Cook. Right there on page 25 is Julia illustrating the way to store onions. She doesn’t come right out and describe the method, but careful inspection of that picture reveals one leg of a pair of pantyhose (impeccably clean, you can be sure) holding the onions and hanging from a hook. You can see where she dropped one into the toe and then carefully tied a knot then another onion and another knot until the tube if filled, tying it off again at the top.

Pretty ingenious if you ask me. By tying off between each one, the onions are not touching another and the hose material allows air to circulate. Doesn’t look too bad, either. I don’t hang mine right out there in full view, but it’s great hanging from a hook in the pantry.

Now I just cut off one onion at a time and feel quite culinarily chic in the process. Onions and garlic (I store them the same way) seem to last forever with this method.

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Three Free Life-Improving Resources

If you are generally wary of free stuff, I’m right there with you. Most of the time, I’ve found, free stuff is like bait. It’s a “tasty morsel,” a big tease with the clear intent of getting us to part with money we have no intention of parting with to get whatever it is that’s “free.”

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But now and then, free is truly free with no strings attached. And when it’s something I find useful in my life, well, that’s a happy find.

Today I have three truly free things for you to consider. Chances are good you’ll find them downright awesome!

KITESTRING

If you, your kids or parents are on a solo trip or even out for a walk alone at night, it’s a good idea to let a loved one know you’re safe (or possibly not). Kitestring is a simple web app that checks up on you and sends a text message to your emergency contacts if you don’t respond by a designated time.

Kitestring is an SMS-based service. If you can send text messages, you can use Kitestring. That spares you the trouble of downloading another app. You don’t even need a smartphone to use Kitestring.

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Slipcovers Can Be a Bear to Keep Clean and Get On

I have the most prolific mailbox in the universe—I’m sure of it. Just today I was responding to messages I received nearly a year ago, not that I can possibly respond personally to every message. But I do read all of them. Never forget this: You are the best part of what I do here—you make it all worthwhile.

DEAR MARY: Is there a way that I can remove a blood stain from my black and white floral Hawaiian print car seat slipcover? I hope I can do this without removing the slipcover, which was a bear to put on. Thanks for your help and your wonderful tips and columns. Leslie

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DEAR LESLIE: The best thing I know to remove blood even if the stain is very old, is Soilove Laundry Soil-Stain Remover. It is enzymatic, which means it attacks proteins, of which blood is one. You can get Soilove at 99 Cents Only Stores in California and Arizona; you can also get it online or directly from the manufacturer by calling 1-800-482-6555 M-F, Pacific time.

I can help you with that problem of getting well-fitting slipcovers back on after laundering: Put them on wet. They will stretch more easily and that will take all the struggle out of the process. And they will dry beautifully. I have a large white sofa with slipcovers. When I bought it the saleslady gave me that tip and I am so grateful she did. I wash those slipcovers so often you would be amazed— in the washing machine according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Then I skip the dryer altogether and on they go and so easily, too. I smooth out the wrinkles with my hands and let them dry in place.

DEAR MARY: First off, let me tell you I’m a huge fan. I save almost every email, tip I need or think I will in a Cheapskate folder on my computer. My question: Can I straighten out a warped cast iron skillet? It’s eons old, belonged to my mother-in-law; she always cooked her holiday hams in it. I still do, but don’t like that it’s not flat. Any thoughts? Brenda

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Why Buy When You Can Borrow for Free?

My adult children are big on borrowing stuff from their parents. And from time to time they may fail (you know who you are, son) to mention having borrowed something like a Milwaukee Sawzall Reciprocating saw in its big, bright red case, prompting their father to assume said tool had been stolen after searching the garage high and low for it on a day he had an urgent need for it—further prompting said father to reluctantly make a trip to Home Depot to buy a replacement.

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This little blast from my past illustrates in an odd way, how not everyone needs to own the same things. My husband uses his Sawzall so frequently, he’s replacing the blade with abandon. But Jeremy? Hardly ever—like maybe once a decade. Harold needs to own this tool. Jeremy is better off borrowing (all is forgiven, by the way).

A recent story in TIME (“Finally, an App That Lets You Borrow a Corgi,” Mar. 24, 2016) made me smile. Seems you can now borrow a dog (and in this case “borrow” means renting by the hour) if you can’t afford one, don’t have room for one, lack the commitment to own one or want to take a particular breed for a test drive as part of the decision-making process.

Many public libraries are becoming a fantastic source for borrowing unusual items you may need only once a year, or even less frequently. Why buy when you can borrow for free?

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Immersion Therapy for Mobile Phone Droppers

A mid-west sewer authority did a study and came up with data suggesting that 19 percent of people admit to having dropped their phones in the toilet. I’m not sure why this fact would be of interest to a sewer agency, but it did come to mind when this letter washed up on my desk a week or two ago.

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DEAR MARY: A week ago, I dropped my smart phone in the toilet. I tried to rescue it but had to get a new phone. The salesman said every day, someone comes in with the same problem. Now I’m wondering if there is some kind of waterproof case I can get to protect it in case this happens again. And, by the way, how do you fix a wet phone? My method (I immediately cleaned it, took it apart and then stuck it in a bag of rice to dry out) didn’t work. Bev

DEAR BEV: There are steps you can take to try to rescue a waterlogged mobile phone, but there are no guarantees.

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Einstein in the Kitchen or Let Them Eat (Carrot) Cake

I have a special treat for you today. It’s a recipe. Normally I sell this recipe for $1,000 but it’s your lucky day. OK, I’m just kidding about that, but honestly it’s worth even more than that because in the world of cakes, this one is worth its weight in gold, which as I write is about $1,225 per ounce.

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You may already be aware of this, but I’ll say it anyway: In this world there is carrot cake and then there is scrumptious absolutely to-die-for carrot cake—the kind of cake you’ve only experienced with a $200-per-person meal at a fancy hotel (you do that all the time, right?).

It’s the kind of carrot cake that comes out grand champion in a competition at a fine culinary school like Le Cordon Bleu Baking and Pastry Arts Program. This is the cake that’s going to make your friends and family think you’re a genius! And don’t be surprised when it becomes your signature cake—the one they request for their birthdays. Imagine how beautiful this cake might look on your Easter brunch table this weekend.

As you peruse this recipe, you may be tempted to make a few adjustments. Please do not do that. You’ll think 1 1/2 cups oil is excessive. It’s not. And the pineapple. Seriously? Yes. Do not doubt me. This is the perfect recipe both in ingredients and proportions, so please follow it exactly. It’s the recipe you’ll be tempted to keep secret and that’s fine with me. 

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How to Win the Warehouse Club Game

They’re big, they’re filled with temptation and millions of people shell out fifty bucks a year on average to be card-carrying members of the big three warehouse clubs: Costco, Sam’s Club and BJ’s.

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While the whole idea is to save money by shopping at a warehouse club, membership alone does not guarantee that will be the result. In fact, just the opposite is as likely to happen, where members end up spending far more than they imaged they would because they just don’t how to make a club work for them.

As a long-time warehouse club member, it’s taken years for me to really figure out how to win the warehouse club game.

KNOW BEFORE YOU GO. It is really dangerous to your wealth to cruise into the club without a clear idea what you are going to buy. The way to know before you go is with a written shopping list. If you need it, you know it before you arrive. If you discover things you need that are not on your list, make a second list—things you will buy on your next trip to this club. Make sure to check the monthly ads for your specific membership club for items with instant savings or discounts. 

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